Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
Madrigals Book III
Monteverdi's Third Book of Madrigals was published in Venicein 1592 by Ricciardo Amadino and sold extremely well, with five reprints before1611. Two further editions published in 1615 and 1621 included a basso continuoline \for harpsichord, chittarone or other similar instrument" to aid theinstrumentalists who would otherwise have had to work out their part from thevocal parts and transcribe it by hand. These madrigals were clearly in theperformance repertoire therefore for a good thirty years (quite remarkablegiven the rapidly changing tastes at the turn of the sixteenth century asmonody and opera developed) and were the composer's first major success. Havingbeen engaged two years earlier by the Gonzaga family at the court of Mantua asa humble singer of madrigals and viol-player, by 1592 Monteverdi was alsoworking as a composer alongside Giaches de Wert, maestro di cappella at theducal chapel of Santa Barbara (where all the major sacred ceremonies of thecourt took place). By that time Wert was suffering from various illnesses,including smallpox and malaria, and Monteverdi, keen to make his name andhoping to succeed Wert, dedicated his Third Book to Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga,partly out of respect, but also well aware that he was offering "mature andtasty fruit" that would be of great interest in the cultural atmosphere of thetime. There is no mention here, as there was in the First and Second Books(Naxos 8.555307 and 8.555308), of either his origins or his teachers: as acourt musician he had both assimilated and become part of the sophisticatedculture that had always fascinated him. The Third Book is clearly influenced bythe musical, literary, architectural and other artistic splendours of the Mantuancourt. It is an innovative, at times revolutionary work, full of boldexpressive features, which draws once again on the poems of Torquato Tasso andGiovanni Battista Guarini (the author of one of the most famous Renaissancetexts, Il pastor fido (1589), who was visiting Mantua at the time).
The first madrigal, La giovinetta pianta, sets an anonymoustext and is well constructed but not overly interesting musically even thoughit was usual practice for the first (and last) pieces of such a work to beremarkable in some way or another (a practice Monteverdi had followed in theSecond Book and would do again in the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth, Naxos 8.555310,8.555311 and 8.555312). As with the First Book, however, what matters most hereis not musical innovation but the tribute to the dedicatee: Vincenzo Gonzaga,hedonist, spendthrift and libertine (not unlike Verdi's Duke of Mantua inRigoletto...) would no doubt have been pleased by the explicitly mischievousand sensual references in a text encouraging young girls to take enjoyment inlove.
Love is once again the principal theme of these songs,whether in subtle portrayals of sensuality, as in Sovra tenere erbette 3, or asthe source of pain when a lover's feelings are unrequited or he is betrayed 4 and12. Betrayal is also the theme of the very beautiful Ch'io non t'ami 13 withits tormented finale on the words "come poss'io lasciarti e non morire", and ofOcchi un tempo mia vita 14, with its wealth of contrasting attitudes depictedby the masterly use of horizontal counterpoint (for expressions of love) andvertical harmony (for moments of reluctance and inner pain).
Several of the madrigals in this book (for example theseventh and twelfth) are characterized by a long opening passage written for asingle voice (a sign of the trend by then to separate out the voices andpersonalise them by providing solo introductions), or for the trio of the topthree voices. Many academics believe that this points to a connection with theConcerto delle Dame di Ferrara, one of the few all-female groups in RenaissanceItaly (made up of noblewomen and singers visiting the Ferrarese court). Theirflawless taste, technique and virtuosity were renowned throughout Europe; whilethe usual cappella was made up of a small number of male singers andinstrumentalists, we know from contemporary reports such as that by theFlorentine ambassador in 1571, that at least until 1598 (the year in which thelast heir of Alfonso II d'Este died and the Ferrara dukedom passed into thehands of the Roman Church), larger-scale concerts of around sixty singers andinstrumentalists were staged. These were undoubtedly exceptional events, proofboth of the esteem in which the art form was held and of the great wealth ofFerrara. Given the regular cultural contests and exchanges between the latterand Mantua, it is certainly plausible that Monteverdi might have written piecesexpressly dedicated to the Ladies of Ferrara. Three such pieces appear here: Ocome ?¿ gran martire 2 a superb depiction of that cultured world and of the wayin which such feelings would have to be experienced intimately and withoutoutward show at court; Lumi, miei cari lumi 18; and O rossignuol 6. The lattertwo songs make frequent and effective use of madrigalismi, or word-painting (tobe found on the words "veloce" and "tardo" in Lumi, miei for example; while inO rossignuol, a swiftly undulating theme on "rio" comes to a standstill on thewords "fermarti suoli", the nightingale's song takes flight in a volley ofnotes, and the words of suffering, tears and pain, always present in suchtexts, are treated with dissonant harmonies).
The text of one of the Third Book's most famous pieces, Oprimavera, giovent?? dell'anno 11 is taken from Mirtillo's monologue at thebeginning of Act Three of Il pastor fido. This pastoral drama was a favouriteof Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, as proved by reports of a sumptuous staging in 1598(after a failed attempt in 1591). We do not know for sure, but it seems likelythat this madrigal was included in that performance. The text is polarisedbetween ever-renewing nature with her promise of the joy of new life and anunhappy lover nostalgically recalling a love now lost for ever; the contrastbetween these sentiments is made even stronger by the music -- fast-moving,playful episodes are set in opposition to slow, painful dissonance.
The innovative nature of this book is visible above all inthe "cycles" of madrigals: much has been written about Monteverdi's use ofdeclamation in Vattene pur crudel 8 and the charm of the musical transpositionof the two cycles taken from Tasso's Gerusalemme liberata (also the source ofhis later work, Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda). Nino Pirrotta writesin Scelte poetiche di musicisti (1987) that these works contain "singing ratherthan recitative, because the implicit form of performance can avoid thepractical demands of realistic speech to which performance is too oftensubjected ... Song, representation in song, is the declared artistic aim". Thesequence of three madrigals 15-17 that begins with the desperate words "Vivr??fra i miei tormenti" sets to music the moment at the end of the combat betweenTancredi and Clorinda, when the Christian warrior removes his helmet only torealise that he has unwittingly killed his beloved. A dreamlike atmosphere iscreated; the voices seem to fight one another, angry impulses alternating withlong moments of reflection. Blinded by anger and the violent contest, Tancrediis now condemned to wander for eternity in remorse and self-hatred: the musicperfectly portrays his confused and bewildered state of mind (beginning of 16and 17). The melodies wander harmonically, sustained only by syllabicrepetition intoned on a single note, an obsessive, recitative-like repetition.Yet every time the force builds up it reverberates, leading into a new episodein which other voices overlap, interrupted by the desperate cries of "ahisfortunato" 16. The outcome o